Empty chair is reminder of soldiers’ sacrifice

Local VFW to dedicate ‘Honor Chair’ in Bristol Town Hall

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America’s fallen heroes will have a permanent seat in Bristol Town Hall after the local VFW dedicates an “Honor Chair” there later this month.

Designed to remind residents about the sacrifices made by American military members, the chair remains perpetually empty, giving a permanent seat to all Prisoners of War, soldiers Missing In Action, and those who have died overseas defending the country.

“I know the importance of honoring those who never came back,” said VFW member Gerry Payette, who proposed dedicating the chair in Bristol Town Hall. “We need to make sure people remember. While we came back alive, we have to remind people of the sacrifice made by those who died.”

A Vietnam War veteran, Mr. Payette has made it a personal mission to remind Americans of the sacrifices soldiers make for our freedom. As a resident of Fairhaven, Mass., he approached the local Town Council there and arranged for an Honor Chair to be dedicated in that town’s government center. After moving to Bristol, he brought the idea with him, winning the Town Council’s approval earlier this year.

The chair, a black stadium seat with POW and MIA printed on the back, is elevated on a platform Mr. Payette and other members of the local VFW assembled. The chair will sit near the entrance to Town Hall, just outside the town administrator’s office, backed by the American and POW flags. A plaque will explain to visitors the significance of the empty chair, and a maritime rope paying tribute to Bristol’s boating history will ensure no one mistakenly takes a rest in the chair.

The VFW members, led by Mr. Payette and Commander Karl Antonevich, plan to deliver the chair to Town Hall next week, ahead of the dedication on Friday, May 26, at noon. Local and state dignitaries are expected to attend the dedication, as are veterans from around the region. Korean War veteran Jim Leal, 85, an Army medic who earned the Bronze Star after surviving the infamous “Pork Chop Hill” in Korea, is scheduled to deliver the keynote address.

“He’s the perfect person to serve as keynote speaker,” Mr. Payette said. “Of the 200 people in his company, only 20 came back. We need to make sure people remember.”

Ensuring the fallen heroes are honored and remembered through events like memorial dedications is a key goal of the VFW.

“Veterans helping veterans, that’s all,” Mr. Antonevich said. “The individual souls who did not come back — that’s who we need to remind people of.”

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